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Travel with Children in Finland

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Arlene Sundquist Empie

Our sojourn abroad offered more than travel experiences and camaraderie. It encompassed centuries past, three generations present, and connections with cousins we did not know we had in Finland. The story includes excerpts from journals written by ten-year-olds Kristen Burrows and Jessica Jarvis; and Julien, Marielle, and Cedric Blanc, ages 13, 11, and 7.

Contents

Helsinki to Fäboda

The bright red Volkswagen Caravelle van leased from Avis in Helsinki was ideal for nine people when cousin Inger joined us. Each person was allowed one carry-on suitcase so that the luggage would fit within the rear compartment. Daughter Lauren was designated driver as she is accustomed to European traffic signage and driving habits; Grandpa Bill secured the front passenger seat; I enjoyed a "bonding" experience with five grandchildren in the rear of the van. The configuration of the van, with a table against one side, allowed us to play cards and work on journals. But how is it that six people facing one another in the rear seats are always talking - all at once?

I assembled sturdy 8.5 x 11 spiral journals with quality sketch paper for budding artists, lined and graph paper, conversions for money, temperature, and metric measure, map of Finland to mark our journey, and local map of villages (the University of Washington Bookstore has quality pages and binders). On the table was a container for professional drawing pencils, erasers, blunt scissors, and glue sticks. We each created a collage or design visible through the colorful transparent cover. In the back, I glued a 6 x 9 manila envelope to safeguard treasures collected during a day's journey - birch leaf, museum brochures, streetcar ticket.

Cousin Inger Nyman, who was decidedly unsure that we would find our way to our destination of Fäboda near Jakobstad, took an early morning train to Helsinki and boarded the van, which added to our merriment in meeting this newly-found cousin. We hugged and laughed and talked non-stop. Julien mused, "You didn't know Inger before?"

Old Rauma

This was the most extensive preserved wooden city in the Nordic countries. It seemed that we were just underway, when it was time to stop for a midday meal. Within Old Rauma's colorful market square, the children feasted on Finland's current national dish - pizza. Our trip was assuredly off to a great start. Soon, cameras were clicking as we viewed the awesome statue of St. Francis of Assisi by the Church of the Holy Cross and quietly perused the impressive interior of the former Franciscan monks' monastery, with paintings from the 1500s that cover part of the walls and the vaults of the choir.

Stundars heritage cultural museum

This is a village of 20th century buildings from Ostrobothnia.

"The village shows how people lived a hundred years ago. We went to a little house where a man was hammering shingles on the roof. When I climbed up the ladder, he handed me the hammer and said, "Here, I need a break." So I got to do it myself It was cool. We put hay on the haystacks with wood pitchforks. I shot at bottles with a rock in a slingshot. I walked on stilts made of boards with blocks of wood under my shoes.

“Then we went into the farmhouse. I watched a girl weave a rug made of rags on a loom. Everything was small: the rooms, the beds. They cooked over a fire. There was an old woman tatting lace and a woman spinning wool. A man told us they baked bread four times a year and stored it on poles on the ceiling. They slept on straw mattresses. He gave us a yucky drink tasting like beer and blood bread that they made with real blood. Ew"

Söderfjärden

From Stundars, we walked the 1 km trail to Finland's largest meteorite crater. The remarkable circular plain, nearly seven miles across, formed when a meteor hit the earth 520 million years ago. The swampy wetland underwent the largest draining operation in northern Europe in the 1920s to create 5,700 acres of fertile fields. It is a paradise for birds, and in the fall, a resting place for millions of cranes. An easy climb up the observation tower offers an awesome view across the plain.

As we drove north, rolla rose, fireweed, and lupine framed the roadside with bursts of color as the landscape repeated - strips of blooming raps, oats, barley, and potatoes. We reached our villa at Fäboda late that evening, but it was still as light as day.

"We slept on the porch, although it was hard to go to sleep when it was still daylight, even after our swim at 23.00 {11:00 pm}." Sleep did not come easily even after a refreshing swim in the tepid water of the Gulf of Bothnia. The cousins carried on their excited chatter while I contemplated the magic of a midsummer night in Finland when earth sleeps, but someone forgot to turn off the light.

Recommendations

  • Take care in selecting your vehicle. The Caravelle van had poor air circulation because the rear windows did not open.
  • Seaside camping at Naantali, with summer cottages for 2 to 6 persons. Bring your own bed linens or rent them at campground. Naantali Camping tel.+358 2 435 0855.
  • Pizza at Ristorante La Bamba in Old Rauma market square. Also, middag dinner at Fredrikas kaffe och matrestaurang, in the center of Solf village, 200 meters from Stundars. Everyone loved the Pea Soup, which was a new culinary experience for the children, and for dessert there were pancakes with strawberry jam and ice cream.
  • Stundars Center of Culture and Art, Solf village Korsholm 17 km. south of Vasa. Sixty 20th century buildings moved from nearby villages. Visit http://www.stundars.fi for details. And for high-energy children, from Stundars, you can walk/run the 1 km trail to view Söderfjärden meteorite crater.

For ease in travel planning, the place names in the article are concurrent with names used in the English language version of Finland Vacation Guide 2003, available by contacting the Finnish Tourist Board, P.O. Box 4649, Grand Central Station, New York 10163-4649 or visiting http://www.gofinland.org or http://www.finland-tourism.com/us for more information.


Next Issue: Part II, An Historical Adventure.

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